Open Discussion Club Posters Incite Controversy, Get Torn Down

Posters+Cause+Controversy+on+Campus

Posters Cause Controversy on Campus

Nicole Dienst, Maroon-News Staff

After pro-life posters put up by the Colgate University Open Discussion Club were allegedly torn down, the club posted statements below many of their posters saying, “Please note that the attached poster is legally protected by Colgate University, as it is sponsored by the Open Discussion Club. That is, the attached poster has the right to stand and may not be removed.”

In recent weeks, members of the Open Discussion Club alleged that several of their posters were torn down by students, faculty members and staff across campus. These posters, hung in Persson Hall, Frank Dining Hall and the O’Connor Campus Center (COOP), represent viewpoints of club individuals who are attempting to foster open political discourse and debate across campus in a civil and communal forum. These posters, paired with the sponsored event featuring author Heather MacDonald, have prompted controversy circulating both university policy in regards to advertising, in addition to student opposition towards the club’s viewpoints.

Club members, including President of the Open Discussion Club sophomore Anthony Palazzola, alleged that there have been several incidences of their posters, specifically their “Join the Pro-Life Generation!” posters having been torn down by faculty and staff.

“Most of the posters which express specific opinions are torn down within a day or two of being posted,” Palazzola said.

In specific reference to the tearing down of their posters, several members, including sophomore Reed Cleland, emphasized that these types of actions are expected of those who oppose the posters’ messages.

“When you take on the status quo, whichever side of the political spectrum you are from, whether you are from the right or are on the left, whenever you challenge the status quo––and there is a status quo at Colgate University––you can expect resistance, that’s just natural and so I think part of the whole with the posters being taken down, that’s just part of the natural order of things and how it goes and you have to expect that,” Cleland said.

Sophomore Kelsey Bonham revealed that she had torn down several of the “Join the Pro-Life Generation” posters that hung around campus.

“I took down several of the pro-life posters that they had posted around campus for multiple reasons, partially because they were factually incorrect and spreading misinformation and should not be protected under free speech,” Bonham said.

In regard to the posters, Bonham expressed her discontent with the viewpoints shown and sees potential for harm to the student body who have visible access to these posters across campus.

“The odds that at least one person on this campus has had an abortion in her lifetime are pretty high and I haven’t, but I am sure that if I had, I am sure I would really not enjoy seeing that poster in a space that is supposed to be safe for me and a space that is supposed to be educational,” Bonham said.

 In addition to Bonham, several other students have expressed discontent with the information and statistics featured on the posters, including senior Anne Getz Eidelhoch.

“I believe that this could be a very interesting and important conversation because of a variety of viewpoints, but how it’s being presented now does not seem like an open discussion, it seems like propaganda being hung around campus,” Getz Eidelhoch said.

University policy on advertising has several guidelines in place to protect free speech, while also enforcing rules to ensure the safety of all those on campus. Associate Vice President for Campus Safety, Emergency Management and Environmental Health and Safety Dan Gough clarified university policies on advertising and mentioned that these policies transcend across all posters, not just those advertising an event.

“But the term ‘advertising’ means to advertise not just for an event but for opinion, or club, or point of view or whatever the case may be,” Gough said.

Gough mentioned that there have been no reported incidents of the Open Discussion Club’s posters, specifically the Pro-Life posters, being torn down and emphasized the importance of upholding university policies by individuals on campus.

“I would encourage members of the organization to report that to campus safety. If someone is tearing down posters that do meet the provisions of the advertising policy––for example it says the organization’s name, that that’s printed on the poster, that they are hung on designated bulletin boards, all of those things that are outlined by the policy ––if someone is taking that down that’s a violation of University policy,” Gough said.

Member of the Open Discussion Club and senior Connor Madalo further stated that the club is operating within University policy.

“This is a private university who has their own policies, we abide by that but as far as we can allow open discussion and new ideas to spread in a manner that’s healthy and positive, we’re all for that,” Madalo said.

The club’s attempts for discussion have faced opposition and various responses, including a reaction from sophomore Elizabeth Drebin.

“Although I understand that in this country we have a right to free speech, in my perspective, portraying false narratives regarding pro-life positions is wrong,” Drebin said. “This organization may be called the ‘Open Discussion Club,’ but they truly are just portraying a right-wing narrative in which they can hide behind the first amendment in order to spread a false narrative about people who receive abortions and/or people who go to Planned Parenthood.”

Casey said that false narratives, as Drebin calls them, are difficult to check, and he is unsure if inaccurate free speech falls within a specific governing body.

“Free speech doesn’t mean free accurate speech…It’s extremely difficult to monitor free inaccurate speech….I’m not sure there would be a legitimate body whose job is about accuracy of things that are said in classrooms, things that are said on boards,” Casey said.

President of Planned Parenthood at Colgate senior Rachel Burg reinforces the importance of open discussion in the case of conflict.

“I think sometimes having these polarizing things up allows for these kinds of discussions to happen and for people like me who [are] very involved in Planned Parenthood to be able to talk about these things and say why they are incorrect is sometimes more important than silencing these voices,” Burg said.

Members of The Open Discussion Club do not plan to directly address the tearing down of their posters, but rather urge individuals to attend their open forum club meetings and get involved with the organization.

“If you disagree with the opinion, please don’t tear it down, come to our club meetings and we will sponsor your corresponding or opposing opinion to that statement. We want opinions to thrive next to each other and to compete with one another, we don’t want an opinion to go up and then have it torn down,” Palazzola said.

The club is looking into pursuing lock boxes or locked frames to hang their posters to avoid further tampering with their publications. Faculty

advisor and political science Professor Barry Shain stated his support of these lock boxes to ensure that the organizations thought-provoking messages are reaching its audiences around campus.

Junior Estelle Kelty proposed that the club should be more forthcoming about the information on their posters.

“[The club] should at least give a disclaimer that this is not all the information available.

If this is an open discussion forum, I feel that having four statistics [hung up], none of which are entirely factual, shouldn’t be allowed [without saying] ‘you know there’s a large body of literature other than just these four statistics we are giving you’,” Kelty said.

In partnership with the Center for Western Civilization, the Open Discussion Club plans to bring conservative political commentator and author Heather Mac Donald to campus on Thursday, February 20 at 5:00 p.m. in Love Auditorium, which will include a Q&A following the event.

“We want people who disagree with her, who have various other opinions, to challenge her. Obviously we want it to be in a civil environment and a civil fashion but we want, that’s the whole point: diversity of opinions,” Palazzola said.